Chapter Twenty Three: Lies (Part Four)
The years came and went. Tash faced new challenges, encountered new faces. The most intriguing of which was the young Algo Syrosk. The Human apprentice dealt with the young alien much as he would any other Sith. With caution. Perhaps even some fear. But with the passage of time came change. Unfamiliar change.
The two apprentices’ masters reached an agreement. A sharing of resources, the true cost of which was known only to them. But the immediate effect was the amount of time Tash and Syrosk found themselves in contact with one another. As a child, there was little the alien could offer the Human apprentice, aside from maybe an ear. A curious prospect, as Tash had little in the way of acquaintances, and none in the way of friends. A Sith in his position couldn’t afford it.
But Syrosk was different. A good different, and yet, a scary different. But for all his differences there was familiarity. A good familiarity, and yet, a scary familiarity. Syrosk progressed as any apprentice should, but as he honed his mental capabilities, Tash was reminded of the constant intrusions offered by his own master. But he couldn’t bring himself to hate Syrosk, despite his alien heritage, despite the downright benevolence of Syrosk’s master compared to his own.
As the years passed, the apprentices advanced along the paths set by their masters. Syrosk was trained in the ways of a Seer. Tash was driven toward physical dominance, through the utter brutality imposed upon him. But as time moved forward, both apprentices began to want more than what their masters could offer. Would offer. Syrosk was the first to suggest a greater cooperation than mere sparring partners now and then. A trade of skills, that would permit each to reach untold potential, and to purge whatever weaknesses remained within them.
The boldness of the alien’s proposition intrigued Tash. It was atypical of the reserved child he had met ten years ago. But time changes all things. Especially Sith. For all he knew, the ambitious but kind mentalist could have changed into a cold, calculating schemer. But the Human was not without schemes of his own. For he intended to kill his master one day, and Syrosk was offering a solution to the one problem that prohibited him from doing so.
Year after year, their masters grew more and more distant, and the apprentices grew closer. They relied on each other for new lessons, new trials. Lord Leshai had grown colder, lashing out at his apprentice without the typical insightful declarations following it. The Pureblood had withdrawn, tasking himself with personal ambitions rather than tending to his growing apprentice. His attention had once again returned to the artifact trade, to his skills as a Seer.
When he would emerge, it would always come alongside a task. One Tash would accompany him on. The two apprentices would accompany their masters on missions. Syrosk and Lord Omnus seeking out Force-sensitive children to place in the academies, while Tash and Lord Leshai would seek out Force artifacts to stockpile and trade.
As Syrosk spent time with his master, he began to understand his capabilities, his responsibilities. As Tash spent time with his, all he felt was doubt. He would delve into tombs, takes items by force, do everything his master was incapable of. And with each acquisition the words of Serron repeated in his mind. Each day, he wondered if he was just yet another tool in his master’s arsenal.
With time, Leshai gained more and more favor with the Dark Councilor whom held the seat of Ancient Knowledge. His work earned him boons and privileges, and eventually the title of Darth. Even as his master achieved one of the ultimate honors, Tash felt little reciprocation his way. As his master ascended, he remained firmly stuck in his place as a lowly apprentice. He felt he had done more than any other in his position, and yet he had nothing to show for it.
And so once again he left his master’s guidance, trying to achieve some semblance of his own sovereignty. He left Dromund Kaas, did battle, colluded with fellow Sith, partook in pleasures he never could under the watchful eye of his master. But even with his freedom, he felt himself incapable of accomplishing anything. He realized he had come to rely on earning his master’s favor. Leshai’s training style had indebted the student. As powerful as Tash had become, he was without funding, without a power structure. He could do nothing as an apprentice. So long as Leshai continued to exist he could not advance, and he could not break away. The final straw came the day Lord Omnus became Darth Omnus, and Syrosk became Lord Syrosk.
Within the expanded halls of Darth Leshai’s sanctum, the elder Pureblood quietly meditated within his chambers. The quiet could not last in the face of the ruckus that resounded from the sanctum’s entrance. Tash barged into his master’s quarters, face locked in a snarl.
“Leshai!” the apprentice shouted. The Darth opened his eyes and responded with a slow, drawn out sigh. Tash barged in on is master’s meditations to see him kneeling upon the floor, his back to him. “Do you know who’s been given the rank of Sith Lord?”
“I’ve no doubt you intend to tell me,” Leshai coldly muttered.
“Syrosk! His master promoted him!”
“You two trained together for quite some time. You must proud for him.”
“My feelings about him aren’t a factor here!”
“Aren’t they? Aren’t your feelings about him being given rank and title the entire reason you’ve decided to interrupt me?”
“This is about me and you. For decades I’ve served as your apprentice. For years, I’ve been stuck in my place while you rose to the rank of Darth, an achievement you could not have attained without my help!”
“I’ve countless contingencies for various circumstances,” Leshai stated. “If I so desired, I could have done so without your-“
“Shut up!” Tash interrupted. “I have waited long enough!”
“For something! For anything! You are going to make me a Sith Lord, or else!”
“Or else what?”
“Come on, don’t play stupid. You know exactly what I’ve been thinking. You know exactly what I plan to do.”
“I suppose you’re right, if for the wrong reasons,” Leshai declared as he began to stand. “I know you intend to kill me if you don’t get what you want. You’ve been working up the nerve to do so for quite some time. It was seeing your peer given the promotion you believe yourself so rightfully deserving of that triggered this confrontation. But then again, I didn’t require delving into your mind to come to such a conclusion.
Tash was dumbstruck as his master turned to face him. “You’re amulet… it’s gone. Where is it?”
“With the rest of my collection,” Leshai declared. “I suppose in your frustrated haste you haven’t visited the study recently.”
“Is empty… yes. As are my many strongholds and vaults,” Leshai clarified. “You managed to trigger the ultimatum contingency. Every tangible archeological asset in my possession has been collected and put on ships bound for Republic space. There they will crash, scatter, and eventually be recover by the Jedi, to be sealed away with the other dark artifacts they seek to protect themselves from.”
“WHAT? Why?” Tash exclaimed
“Because I had a vision long ago, one I had a duty to see fulfilled. One that pertains to me… and you. I have done my part. The rest is up to you.”
“I’m sick and tired of your Seer nonsense! How can you call yourself Sith if you let yourself be shackled by such nonsense as visions and fate? Well that’s it. I’m done. I don’t need your precious little trinkets. I don’t need your restrictions.”
“You’ll come to understand… that even should I perish, you’ll not escape such restrictions,” Leshai declared.
“Then there’s no reason to dwell on it. If things are the same whether you are living or dead, I’d prefer dead.”
“Very well. If you can kill me, you’ll earn yourself the title of Sith Lord. I’ve arranged as much. But I’m afraid no matter the circumstances, my pride refuses to allow me to go down easily,” Leshai explained as energy began to crackle between his fingertips.
“Just one thing,” Tash spoke up. “Tell me, how do I plan to kill you?”
The dark lord arched a single eyebrow even as Force lightning jumped between his fingers. Sharpening his eyes, the Darth peered into those of his apprentice searching for the answers. His eyes widened when he found none. “It would seem that without my amulet, I am unable to pierce your mind's defenses.”
“Wonderful,” Tash softly declared. A moment later, the apprentice thrust his hands forward, sending out a powerful Force push. His master flew back, colliding with the wall behind him, cracking the hard surface. Rather than fall to the ground, the Darth found himself telekinetically held against the wall. Still in control of his hands, Leshai sought to lash out with Force lightning, but found the apprentice had already closed the gap.
Tash pinned one of his master’s hands to the walls with one of his own, whilst the other thrust forward to grip the Pureblood’s neck. As the apprentice clutched at his throat, Leshai gripped the wrist with his remaining free hand. Lightning passed from the master to the apprentice, surging throughout the aggressor’s body. Tash didn’t care. He let the dark energy course throughout his entire body, and back out his own arms into its originator. The Force Lightning traveled in a loop as the apprentice tightened his grip. As Leshai struggled for his final breath, the lightning lit up his gasping maw before it finally ceased.
The smell of charred flesh permeated the chamber. Relinquishing his grip, the Pureblood slumped lifelessly to the ground. The apprentice took a step back, marveling at his work. Though his body was in pain, he had endured his master’s attack to no ill effect. A smile graced the Human’s face.
He had done it. He was free. And now, he had some things to present to the Dark Council.
“We are fast approaching the old Academy grounds. We’re struggling to find a suitable landing area for the ship,” Darth Omnus spoke over the Fury’s comm.
“No need,” Tash declared as he pressed a button near the rear hatch. Red lights began to flash as the vessel’s entrance opened mid-flight, the sight of the passing landscape beneath them greeting the two Sith.
“What was that about subtlety?” Syrosk asked with a raspy chortle. Turning his attention to a nearby panel, the alien sent a message to the cockpit. “Get us as close as possible. We’ll handle things while you find a proper landing spot. I’ll make sure the entrance is clear by the time you arrive, master.”
Without another word, the two Sith Lords leapt from the cruising vessel toward the surface of Korriban, lightsabers ignited, their first targets in their sights. There was little in the way of established defenses stationed across the old Academy grounds. Light security forces, just enough to keep ordinary looters out of the nearby tombs.
The lightly defended grounds were soon overtaken by the two Sith Lords and their eventual reinforcements. Their crimson blades made short work of any security forces that dared stand in their way, slicing through cloth and flesh without effort. Eventually, none were left to oppose the Sith’s arrival on their ancestral homeworld.
The battle was over. The first battle in the first war either Lord had participated in, and it was already over. As Tash walked amongst the scattered corpses that bled into the rocky terrain, he felt a disappointment wash over him. He felt as if he had been preparing for this moment his whole life, and was sufficiently let down. In his mind, he knew nothing of the Republic’s true resilience, but there was a definite part of him that wished for anything but an expedited conflict.
Darth Omnus eventually found a suitable landing spot for his cruiser. Side by side, he and his apprentice were amongst the first to step foot in the remains of the Sith Academy. The elder master was awestruck with its magnificence. Lord Tash held little in regards to wonder. He had long since abandoned the sense of sacredness in anything.
Omnus and Syrosk had planned for an extended stay on Korriban, working with the Dark Council to get the Academy up and running. The other Lord possessed other interests, however. For the land stretching forth from the Academy was the Valley of the Dark Lords, where the tombs of the powerful Sith of old rested, along with all manners of treasures, troubles, and the spirits who hold domain over them.
After a few days, Tash was planning on joining the war effort alongside the dispatched warriors, when word of a local captive caught his attention. During the Battle of Korriban, a number of Republic forces had managed to escape destruction at the hands of the Sith. The reason such a gathering was even taking place was the trade and attempted smuggling of Sith artifacts.
A grave robber by the name of Farel Wickes had just finished selling a number of items before the Empire invaded. He was unsuccessful in his attempts to escape, being captured and held on the planet, where information on the surrounding tombs would be painfully extracted from him. When Tash caught word of the man's apparent fame amongst collectors of Sith artifacts in the Republic, the Lord could not pass up the unique opportunity.
Lord Tash ventured to where the grave robber was being tortured, interrupting the assigned inquisitor in progress. The room was utterly dark, the only powerful source of light the jolts of Force lightning that leapt from the inquisitor’s fingertips. Upon the Lord’s intrusion, the interrogator ceased.
“I’m a little busy at the moment,” the inquisitor rasped.
“My name is Lord Tash, I’m here representing the Dark Council’s sphere of Ancient Knowledge. I’ve a few questions I wish to ask of our prisoner.”
“Why wasn’t I informed of this?”
“I do not know, nor do I care, but I promise my business with this man will be quick and you can return to your work in a matter of moments,” Tash declared, his hand politely gesturing toward the door. The inquisitor hesitantly complied, leaving the Lord alone with the grave robber.
“Are you awake?”
The prisoner offered a low groan. “Yes…” he eventually answered.
“Good. I have a series of precise question that I hope you could answer for me. No aggression. No torture. Just you, me, and some answers. And if you help me out, I can help you. Understood?” Wickes supplied a groggy nod. “Good. I need to know. Roughly two years ago, a large cache of Sith artifacts should have suddenly manifested in Republic space. Would you know anything about that?”
“A cache? I've only dealt with the stuff... that's been undisturbed for hundreds of years.”
“But you’ve dealt with traders. Collectors. Surely you’d have heard about such a large find.”
“Two years ago… the only thing that comes to mind is a particular string of finds that occurred around the same time. But the Jedi got to all of them before anyone in the trade knew of their existence.”
“Alright. And what would the Jedi have done with them?”
“Same thing they do… with any Sith artifact they come across. They lock it up.”
“And where might they lock it up?”
“Coruscant. The worst stuff… is hidden beneath the Jedi temple. The rest of it… is put in heavily guarded vaults across the planet.” Tash looked upon the prisoner in silence. “That’s all I know. Please, you have to help… they’ll kill me.”
“Don’t worry. You’ve helped me a great deal. I’m sure I can work something out.”
“Oh… thank you. Thank you… so much…”
Tash supplied a quick nod to the prisoner before exiting the chamber. Outside, a testy inquisitor looked upon the Lord with an arched eyebrow.
“Well?” the inquisitor muttered.
“I have everything I need, inquisitor. You may proceed with your duties.”
Lord Tash left the premises. He had no interest in the gathering of artifacts left behind by long forgotten Sith. He wanted only to act and progress by his own merits. But his master was right. Even beyond his death he had shackled his apprentice. Darth Leshai had left the stipulation that should he fall by his apprentice’s hand, that apprentice be given the rank of Sith Lord. But that wasn’t the only agreement he made before his passing. He had made many promises to many Sith Lords. He had promised certain collectors certain artifacts, ones that he knew he’d no longer possess. The Darth had predicted his own demise, and prepared accordingly.
Leshai had left behind a series of circumstances that would challenge Tash even beyond his death. Lord Tash now balanced appeasing the Lords spurned by Leshai’s broken promises, with his own vendettas. He had a set of skills that could sufficiently satisfy certain desires of any Sith, but he could not overcome the debts he owed without his master’s collection. He had thought he could ignore it, but it was proving difficult as time passed. He knew that eventually, he would have to complete his master’s final challenge: recovering his collection of artifacts and Sith knowledge. All of which now rest in the hands of the Jedi.